Thursday, January 7, 2010

What Should My Spiritual New Year's Resolution Be?

"A New You Resolution" is Andy Stanley's first message of 2010.  It is a message about setting New Year's resolutions and about setting goals in general.  According to most experts, about 40% to 50% of you will have New Year's resolutions at the start of each year.  Also, according to various articles he's read, about 30% to 40% of these resolutions will be broken within the first week and 90% or so of these will be broken within the first 6 months.  One particular article outlines the fact that the most popular resolutions based, on a poll, tend to be th same year after year after year.  These New Year's resolutions, in order, are:

1) Weightloss
2) Manage Money, Save or Get Out of Debt
3) Get a Better Job
4) Spend More Time with Family
5) Quit Smoking
6) Eat Right or Get Fit
7) Get a Better Education
8) Reduce Stress
9) Getting Greener
10) Volunteer to Help Others

How many of you have one of these goals?  How many of you have the same goals this year?  "I'm not a big one on goals", says Andy. Generally, he keeps the same goals on a single bulletin board..  They are simple goals and tend to be the same.  A few of these goals are to stay out of debt, have so many nights of dinner with the family, amount he wants to put into savings and generosity goals.  Most of these goals are stated in percentages.  That's pretty much it. 

Andy doesn't have 20 goals like some very organized people.  "You know these people; with the notebooks and tabs...They even have goals for their spouses...They have points and subpoints...and chart them...When I'm around those pepole, it's very intimidating and I feel like a complete loser."

Andy says the reason he is not a goal kind of person is because he was "kind of scarred" as a child.  Because Andy wasn't motivated, his dad seemed to get frustrated with him, especially since his dad had grown up as a teen who started a lawn cutting business, had a paper route and  walked 5 miles to school in the snow.   Well, one day when Andy was in high school, his dad decided it was time for Andy to set some goals.  Andy thought to himself, "but if I set goals, it only sets me up for failure."   His dad sent him into a room, dropped a pen and paper in front of him and even left a book on setting goals for Andy to read to help him.  Andy didn't know what to write.  "What if I set the wrong ones?!?  What if God wants me to do one thing and I write down something opposite of that?"  Andy pondered for what seemed to be days ("It was probably only about 20 minutes").   Mr. Stanley came back in the room to see what Andy had done, but Andy had not written anything down.  "My dad had to be thinking, 'I have to get another kid!'".

New Years resolutions are a good thing.  Andy and Sandra will set some resolutions sometimes like not eating sugar for a period of time.  But in today's message, Andy wanted to make a suggestion as it pertains to resolutions; not to replace them, but to set alongside these goals.  However, in Andy's opinion, the concept he wants to introduce is probably more important than setting goals and most people don't focus on this either. 

"I think what's more important than 'what do you want to achieve' goals is 'what do I want to be' goals."  He is not talking about occupational goals, but rather what do you want to be as a person.  It is always a mistake to decide what you want to do before you determine who you want to be.  What you are always determines what you do!   What you are at your core points you to what you are going to do. 

Society pressures us to accomplish much and to always do more.  It rewards bigger houses, nicer cars and more money.  But, it is always a mistake not to decide what you want to be first.  Think about it.  Look at all the politicians, entertainers and athletes.  We hear about things that these people do that are so extraordinarily stupid!  We think, "Why would anybody with that much money do that?!  Why would anyone married to her or why would anyone with that much fame or power do those things?!  Look at what they've achieved!" 

A person's potential or a person's talent or ability to achieve has the potential to take them further than their character can sustain them. 

Us mere mortals who just get up everyday and do the normal things are baffled by others bad decisions, but yet we are capable of these same mistakes too.  Your character will ultimately determine what others think about you.  Your character will determine the health and the fulfullment of those relationships.

Andy discovered the concept he seeks to introduce many, many years ago.  He was in love and about to get engaged to Sarah.  During that time, in the late 80's, there were a series of scandals.  Politicians and high level religious figures were under intense scrutiny.  As he sat back and watched these people show the public what a complete disaster they were, it dawned on Andy that he probably needed to determine what kind of person he wanted to be.  Even though his thoughts were, "if I had that much money, success or power, I would never have done that", he says none of us know what we would do in a high position.

Then a second thing happened.  Andy was a youth leader at the church and they were doing a series on courage.  Andy decided to do a lesson on Daniel and the Lion's den from the book of Daniel.  He was reading the story and knew he had read it before, but this time, the scriptures jumped out at him in a brand new way.  The context here is that Daniel was a Jewish boy taken out of his home in Jerusalem as a captive in Babylon.  He served under three kings and lived a long time.  These kings recognized Daniel to be so wise that they promoted him through the ranks even though he was Jewish and this made those around Daniel very jealous.  But the scripture speaks directly to the subject of what do we want to be.  Daniel 6:3-5 says this:

"Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, "We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God."

The administrators tried to find corruption in Daniel, planning to turn it on him, but they could not!  He was "trustworthy and not negligent".  Finally, they decided that the only way to nail this guy was in terms of his faithfulness to his God.  Andy thought, "Wow, wouldn't it be great to be that kind of man?"  If someone were to investigate him, they would find integrity on the outside and on the inside.  But Andy knew that this doesn't happen by accident.  This has to be very intentional. 

So, Andy began to read and to study, trying to drill down on the notion of "character".  But it is a very nebulous thing.  About this time, someone gave Andy Stephen Covey's book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People".  In that book, Mr. Covey suggests that people take the time to think about the major people in their lives and then ask the question, "If these people were to stand up and say something at your funeral, what would you want them to say?"  Andy decided he was going to do this exercise.  So, morning after morning, he went through this exercise.  It took about a month to do this.  But he wanted to write what his friends, his kids, his wife, his boss, etc might say about him at his funeral.  After he wrote out their speeches, he then pulled out 8 important character traits that stood out as most important to him.  It was an extraordinarily helpful exercise. 

Whenevery you set a goal you should always ask the question, "why should I set this goal? "  One of the things that surfaced in Andy's exercise was Honesty.  "But why," he thought, "is honesty so important? What is at stake to being honest?"  Why would anyone want to be so committed to honesty that it cost money, time and sometimes reputation?  Andy spent a lot of time on this and finally decided that honesty is the foundation of every single healthy relatinship.  To be dishonest is to pull the rug out from under these relationships. 
Another important character trait of Andy's was to be Pure.  But why?  People laugh at this value because it can be so corny, but Andy discovered the powerful idea that purity paves the way to intimacy . What's at stake with purity is that failure to have purity is failure to be able to be intimate. 

Generosity was another valued trait of Andy's, but he had to find out why.  What is at stake with Generosity?  Generosity is what allows owners to be free from "being owned" or controlled by what they own.  If this is a foundation of who you want to be, it is important to know why. 

After Steven Covey outlines this exercise in his book, he then points out that what you want said about you at your funeral is your personal definition of success.  This had a powerful impact on Andy.  "As I looked at those 8 words (the 8 character traits), this is how it affected me."  If people said, "Andy was the best preacher ever, Andy had a great car or Andy had a great job", none of these were in the funeral speeches he wrote out for himself.  What's more, if he were to accomplish any of these things, it would mean nothing at his funeral.   However, to be dishonest, for Andy is to fail.  To not be generous for Andy, by his own definition, is to fail.  To be disloyal as a friend is to fail.  So, for Andy, these 8 words became a perimeter for his behavior .   Andy is now free to plan, to achieve and do whateve he wants to within these perimeters, but the moment he steps outside of this perimeter, he is a failure.  Once you have set this kind of goal, you will be a success by your own definition! 

That was 20 years ago and Andy can still rattle off those 8 character traits.  What motivated him to do the exercise at the time was fear.  He was about to get married.  He goes on a funny side note about  how his proposal was not glamourous.  Sandra said, "You dont have to do this."  That was how romantic it was.  Whatever it was, though, that drove Andy to do this exercise, it was the most healthy exercise he has ever done as it relates to goals.  When Andy fails in these areas, within his perimeter, he feels more guilty than the average person.  He focuses intensely on these 8 things because he has defined them himself.

Urging us to follow in suit, Andy points out, "You are going to be something this year, aren't you?  You are going to accomplish some things, but you are going to be something, right?  Why not decide?....What you are ultimately determines what you do.  Who you are determines if you are a person worth knowing...I want to challenge you to sit down and begin this process...Every body is different, but whether this is a morning or series of mornings, you owe it to yourself to start figuring out who you want to be."  Here is what you are going to discover.  "It's what God wants you to be, too!"  He wants you to be a reflection of Him. When you get to the bottom line, 99% of these character traits are going to be what your heavenly father is trying to bring about in your life anyway.  
Andy then points out that the church wants to help you become what you want to be.  It encourages you and others to come together in the way of Commuity Groups.  These groups help you to become accountable to what you want to be.  At the end of the day, who you are will ultimately determine what you do.  Take some time, however you decide, to at least ask the quesiton,  who do I want to be, what's at stake and what does the perimeter around my behavior need to be?

This is not in Andy's message, but in summarizing this, I ran across a very useful for goal setting.  It's

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